“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matt. 7:7)
I believe that among the most central things in our life are the questions we ask – or even the question we ask. This is far removed from our passions and desires. We could even go so far as to say: “What is it human nature wants?” As much as anything, the answer is the very definition of human nature itself. Knowing the answer to the question, “What do I want on the very deepest level of my being?” is already a journey towards the Kingdom of God.
There was a common saying that I recall from my time in the Jesus Movement (early ’70s) that said, “There is a Jesus-shaped hole in your heart.” It posited an emptiness within our very being that could only be properly filled by a personal relationship with Christ. On the one hand, the statement is a sort of theological trivialization of something that is profoundly true. The concept of a “personal relationship” easily became little more than, “I like Jesus.” Like the many cultural fashions of which that movement was a part, it came and it went.
However, hidden within this saying was a profound insight: there is within all people (and all things) a purpose and an end towards which we are moving (or resisting). That end, according to the Fathers, is Christ Himself, the eternal Logos of God.
“For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” (Col. 1:16-17)
Christ is more than a relationship that fills an empty place in our very busy, scattered lives. St. Maximos the Confessor writes about three “incarnations” of the Logos: Creation, the Scriptures, and the God/Man, Jesus Christ. The depths of this are beyond the scope of this article. However, in simple terms, we can say in the words of St. Paul that “God has purposed to gather together in one all things in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:10). That “gathering together in one” would be an exercise in oppression were it not the case that all things that were created have as their inmost purpose that very same gathering. Everything has as its purpose, its end, its logos, which is a reflection of the Logos. All of creation groans – longing for its union in Christ – its eternal purpose.
I think of Christ speaking to the wind and the sea. The disciples marveled, “Who is this that the wind and the sea obey Him?” I believe the wind and the sea were “holding their breath,” just waiting for any word from the Logos. Creation is not “fallen,” in the sense of having ever sinned. Instead, St. Paul describes it as “subject to futility,” that is, it is frustrated and unable to fulfill its final purpose at the present time. However, it yearns for it and moves towards it. The trees in your yard (and all of creation) share the same purpose as do we all – to be gathered together in one in Christ Jesus.
Perhaps the single most astounding statement in the Scriptures is St. John’s “and the Logos (Word) became flesh and dwelt among us.” Christ is the lens through which we “read” all of creation, and certainly the lens through which we read the Scriptures. St. Maximos, in speaking about these things, uses the image of “clothing” or “robes” to describe the relation of creation and Scripture to the Logos. We see the clothing, and we can make out the shape beneath it of the One who so clothes Himself. But the One who is clothed is also “hidden” by that clothing.
This is profoundly true of the Scriptures as well. A simplistic literalism fails, pretty much every time. The reason such treatments fail, I think, is that those who imagine themselves to be literalists are unaware of the “distorted logos” that guides their thought. Their own perversions and damaged hearts are drawn towards distortions. The reading of Scripture is a difficult undertaking that properly belongs under the heading of “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” It is why we always lean on the guidance of those whose wisdom and discernment has proven its worth.
The “question” within us is not the product of our culture or an individualistic longing. Indeed, many of the things within us that we experience as “questions” are nothing more than expressions of our neuroses – the damaged and broken bits of our lives that hound us and haunt us. The journey towards the question is always one of healing, of clearing out the detritus of broken, damaged bits of our lives. In my own experience, I have mostly been aware of the “echo” of the question, a suggestion within myself that there is such a thing. On occasion, I have been staggered in reading the life of a saint, or in a passage somewhere in the Liturgy, in which that echo is more like a blaring trumpet. A very few times, that trumpet has been spoken by the lips of a stranger or a friend.
In the stories of the gospels, we see Christ confronting various people. In every case, I think, we are seeing the Logos speaking to a logos, Deep calling unto deep, Christ slowly unveiling the deepest secret of the heart. We hear it in the words of the Samaritan Woman at the well: “Come meet a man who told me every thing I ever did!” Or in the words of the Simon Peter, “Where else can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn. 6:68)
The “change” that we might discuss as Christians is too often reduced to merely managing our neuroses. We would like to be “better” and make some marginal improvement in our daily battle with sin. It is why, for the most part, we confine our questions to the realm of information. With a bit of spiritual information here and bit there, we seek to gain enough of a handle on things to make a modicum of improvement. The change or transformation that God desires is not found in our improvement. Rather, it is our union with Him and our transformation into His image and likeness. It carries us into the very deepest question. When we pray, “O God, save me!” this is the content of our prayer.
I often think of it as, “O God, save me from myself and from all of the things I would settle for that are less than union with You.”